Frenchie Davis was on American Idol in 2003, but it seemed that her performing career jumped on the fast track after she left the show. Sure, the Howard University theater student had been disqualified from Idol due to a few spicy photos, but she recovered quickly by getting a role in Broadway’s Rent later that year. After Rent, she did a West Coast tour as Effie White in Dreamgirls and won a Grammy nomination for the Ain’t Misbehavin musical tour in 2008 (she performed with fellow Idol contestant and Season Two winner Ruben Studdard). In 2011, she returned to television, finishing fifth on the first season of The Voice after being on Christina Aguilera’s team.
The next year, she made public that she was in a relationship with a woman. In 2012 she also won Best Dance / Electronica at the OUT music awards in Vegas for her release “Love’s Got A Hold On Me,” which went to the 12th slot on the Billboard dance chart.
Best of all, this Saturday, we get to hear Davis’ mezzo soprano voice live at the Maui Pride Festival. We managed to catch up with her and learn her advice for the Idol stage, what she wants to do to Jack Black and the role underwear plays in her future.
MAUITIME: From Broadway’s Rent to playing Effie White in the Dreamgirls, what was the most indelible thing about being on stage?
FRENCHIE DAVIS: I think being on Broadway was probably the most memorable. New York was such an exciting city then. Being on that stage every night was such an incredible feeling and the thing I am most thankful for is the lifelong friendships I built there. I think the tenth anniversary performance of Rent was my most unforgettable night on Broadway–sharing the stage with the original cast. Sharing the season’s solo with Gwen Stewart–the original Seasons Of Love diva!–and then Daphne Ruben Vega (the original Mimi) slayed that night. It was an incredible night.
MT: You attended Howard University for theater. How did that influence your career?
FD: Well I’ve been in nearly 10 Broadway shows so I think the BFA in theater was a good investment.
MT: Ha! Was there someone who influenced you getting into theater?
FD: I always loved to sing and perform, for as long as I can remember. I was in school choirs, drama clubs, etc., but it wasn’t until I got to college and met Professor Mike Malone and changed my major from English to theater that I thought, “okay, maybe I can do this for a living.”
MT: When was your first gig as a performer?
FD: I got my very first job in my junior year of college. I was cast as Crystal, the street urchin, in a production of Little Shop Of Horrors in Germany. I had to do the entire score in German! I ended up being cast in Jesus Christ Superstar with the same company and then I auditioned for Idol a couple of months after returning to the states. And after Idol I got cast in Rent on Broadway… And here we are!
MT: You’ve been on American Idol and The Voice. What’s your advice for the next contestant?
FD: Don’t take it too seriously. Bear in mind that these shows are career builders for the judges/coaches and not necessarily the contestants. So don’t take it too seriously. Have fun and sing your heart out!
MT: So you got some recognition for your single “Love’s Got A Hold On Me.” What inspired you to write that song?
FD: I was in love!
MT: Yes, and that was the relationship that announced you were out. What other passions feed your writing?
FD: I get inspired by life. Socio-political issues. Love–the loss of it. The dance floor. It just depends.
MT: Do you have any dream collaborations?
FD: I would love to do a rock song with Jack Black. I just think he is hilarious and musically awesome and we would have fun.
MT: That wasn’t my first guess, but cool. Tell me, when you’re on the road performing, what are three Frenchie must-haves?
FD: Lashes, Spanx and something sparkly.
MT: Finish this sentence: Frenchie Davis is motivated by her dream of…
FD: Living the most artistically and spiritually fulfilled life possible.
MT: If you had to choose one soundtrack for your life in this moment, what would it be?
FD: That’s a hard one. I think it would be a combination of numerous soundtracks. Something with lots of Jazz music and a slight hint of melancholy. That’s how I feel these days. So many people and things inspire me but I can tell you that my favorite singers of all time include Ella, Dinah, Aretha, Whitney, Sylvester, Freddie Mercury.
MT: What kind of music are you performing?
FD: Right now, many of my favorite songs to perform also happen to be covers of many of my favorite artists’ songs but I’m really excited about the new music I’m working on for my album. I feel like I’m finally finding my sound. I will always do dance music but I’m finally finding my sound outside of dance and getting back to being inspired by the genres that made me fall in love with singing in the first place. I can’t wait to be able to share it with the world.
MT: Were there musical influences coming from home?
FD: My mom sings in church choir. My grandfather played sax. I grew up listening to classic R&B, Jazz, rock, showtunes, opera, everything. Even country. My mother’s a Texan.
MT: So you knew you’d become a musician when you were a child?
FD: I didn’t know I would become a musician. I feel like I’ve been singing my whole life. I started singing because I guess, for as long as I can remember, I have loved to do it. I sing everyday. I mean, I knew music would be a part of my life, but I didn’t think I could actually do it for a living until I got a little older.
MT: But you started pretty young–you were on Idol at 23. What did your parents think when you decided to go after a career in entertainment?
FD: They supported my love of music but they wanted me to focus on my education, which I did. And now everyone is happy.
MT: What are you working on right now?
FD: I’m working on a pop/dance album and a R&B/soul/pop album as well. I also just finished sketches for my plus-size bra/lingerie line and am working on getting samples made.
MT: What advice would you give to other musicians who are just starting out?
FD: Take advantage of every opportunity that will allow you to grow as a performer and artist. You may hear “no” a lot but you only need one “yes” to change your life. So if you’re willing to work hard and keep at it, the odds are in your favor. I didn’t mean for it to come out so Hunger Games-ish, but yeah.
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Maui Pride Festival and Scholarships
The Maui Pride organization celebrates diversity and the positive aspects of the LGBTQ community, encourages and educate. Their main event is the annual Maui Pride Festival, but their activities extend the whole year through with support for individuals, community and the organizations that share those goals. The establishment of their scholarship fund is to support secondary education for deserving recipients in this community.
The recipients of the scholarships are selected from applicants that are either LGBTQ members themselves or children of LGBTQ parents. They also must live in Hawaii for a minimum of a year prior to applying. The candidates apply through a strict process of communicating their past experience with the LGBTQ community and what future impact they foresee.
Maui Pride also puts on the Lava Soiree during the year to raise funds for their scholarship fund. This year, they raised $15,000 and will be awarding $14,000 of those funds.
On Oct. 3, the Governor’s office will fly the rainbow flag in recognition of Maui Pride. The Pride organizers are really excited, as they’ve previously tried “really hard to get Maui County to fly a flag, but with no luck.”
Organizers will announce the five winners of their 2014 scholarships during Friday’s VIP reception. To purchase tickets to this event and others–including the Frenchie Davis–show go to Mauipride.org/maui-pride-weekend
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Thursday, Oct. 2
6pm: Maui Pride Film Festival; $5, Iao Theatre (68 N. Market St., Wailuku)
The first showing is a short called Prinsesa. It’s about a 28-year -ld Filipino-American father who tells the Singkil folk dance tale to his children to calm them after an earthquake. But his young boy seems to identify more as the princess in the myth than the prince. This creates an awkward moment for the dad, especially when his macho friends start questioning his parenting skills.
The second full feature film is Fagbug Nation. It takes you behind the wheel of the once vandalized but now famous Fagbug. With six years of touring under her belt, director Erin Davies (Fagbug, 2009) has her mind set on getting her car to all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. To pull this off, Erin went 54 days without a car, put her car on five boats and flew on 14 planes. The Fagbug got lei’d right here on Maui and drives through the midnight sun to Alaska, but first makes a pit stop at the Equality House in Topeka, Kansas. The film includes a tribute to Raja Shortell. Davies will also be on hand for a Q&A session.
Friday, Oct. 3
5:30pm: Maui Pride VIP Reception; Maui Sunseeker Resort, Kihei
Join Maui Pride with pupus from Sunkissed Maui Events, Mai Tai Bar and goodie bags. There will be an award ceremony to honor community members and the Maui Pride scholarship winners. VIP Ticket holders get into all the events throughout the weekend and also get to attend a meet-and-greet with Frenchie Davis.
9pm: Maui Pride Glitter Party; $10 donation, Moose McGillycuddys, Kihei.
Sparkle with the rest of the Maui Pride crew as they kick off 2014 with a “Glitter Party.” DJ Ron will spin Top 40 and techno hits until midnight.
Saturday, Oct. 4
8:15am: Maui Pride Hike at Twin Falls; Free, Meet at Maui Tropical Plantation
It’s the annual Maui GLBT & Friends Hike of the year. Consider it a behind-the-scenes tour of the Twin Falls Trail. To carpool from the Maui Tropical Plantation, meet at the front parking lot at 8:15am. The carpool will leave 15 minutes later. The hike will end and the carpool will return in time for the Pride Festival itself.
11am-4:30pm: Maui Pride Festival; Free, Maui Tropical Plantation
It’s an all-ages event for the community. Live music starts at noon with Shea Derrick, Deborah Vial, Freeradicals Projekt and I Want Candy. There will also be Drag Races, Maui Pride Gear and more than 40 business and community booths. Lots of food and drinks available, too and a special performance by Emerald City Trapeze.
5:30pm: Frenchie Davis Dinner and Show; $65, Mill House
A pre-show cocktail reception with no-host bar starts at 5:30pm. The buffet dinner includes coffee and tea and starts at 7pm. There’s also a meet-and-greet reception for VIP ticket holders. For those wanting to catch the Frenchie Davis show without the dinner, tickets are $25.
Saturday Oct. 4
9pm: Official Maui Pride After-Party; $5, Moose McGillycuddy’s, Kihei
Dancing, socializing, late night snacks and more good stuff.
Sunday, Oct. 5
9am: Maui Pride Breakfast; Kono’s on The Green, Kihei
We know you partied hard the night before, so hit the breakfast social to rehash good times and recharge after all that dancing from the night before.